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Babylonian words become less ancient names. Wandering Nebo births inconstant Mercury; Marduk cedes to Jupiter and Negral bows to Mars; Saturn bursts pale Ninth's shell, As Ishtar unveils Venus to an audience of stars. Each planet's angel sings in unheard harmony With Orpheus' lyre. Whole numbers hum A universal music only Pythagoras can hear. Behold, how rhythmic mythologies of math Slow as they sail from heaven's spheres Through muddy air to pulse against our untuned ears. We sleep through sounds our senses cannot measure, In rooms full of waves we can't perceive. We dream unremembered dreams proved only By an absence alive inside our silence. As Herakleides to Aristarchus, so Galileo Is to Newton or Copernicus to Kepler. Where one soul begins, another ends; When one body dies, one is born again. The constant flux of particles in a wave Reveals a pattern of points not reached. The improbable predicates the possible. A measure of uncertainty is presupposed By a reckoning of sand. Incarcerated angels Or spirits incarnate, the wise seldom see the light; The ignorant treasure darkness. Above a brightening shore, all fiery red, The planets withdraw behind the sky's blue curtain. I stare at the half disk of the sun As Neptune's salt green streams run yellow gold. Waves in frenzy crash, retreat and crest. These are the appearances we were meant to save. When Kepler asked, Why are you what you are, He found his answers in the stars. The soul of a man is the point of a pin Wherein the form and character of the heavens
May be engraved, were all they contain Ten thousand times as large. The sky does something to a man. Decrees Which child will be a prodigy, which an epileptic. As a hen scratching in a barnyard May find a decent kernel or a silk worm Writhe out of a heap of common worms So Kepler says each of us will find a pearl Within Astrology's blasphemies. Patterns determined by a particular sky Allow our souls to grow just so. Like a vine tended by a vintner Who follows established rules For each plant's nurturing, Our lives resonate in universal harmony Within limits set by mathematical laws. To find the hook God hung the heavens from, Kepler's mind rocks back and forth In its place like the waves of the sea. He invented one world, snuffed out another, Until Plato's perfect solids set him free. A dream's arabesque became a tested vision, Spirit engendered force, the hieroglyphs of myth Resolved into the formulas of science. Fertile error led him toward the central fire Where a geometer's parable blossomed in his mind And a thousand roots spread nowhere all at once. Why waste words? God's seed predates creation. Hear what the spinner of these webs has spoken: Numbers existed before God's eyes were open. Kepler slipped the cube's first perfect form Inside Saturn's sphere. He inscribed within that cube Jupiter's orb and, within that orb, he shaped An equal-sided pyramid to encase the track of Mars. Within Mar's great circle, a dodecahedron cradled Earth And in its turn the globe formed by the path of Earth Enclosed a twelve-sided solid that encoffined Venus' sphere. Within that bubble, an octahedron's shape Encrypted hot Mercury in its swift circuit Round the fiery diamond of the sun.
He constructed this celestial model out of paper In the figure of a cup Duke Frederic's silversmiths Never struck. In his mind each planet was to be Represented by a gem, each sphere was to pour A distinct liquor from a spigot hidden in its works: Aqua Vitae from the sun; cognac from Mercury; Mead from Venus; water from the moon; From Mars, vermouth; from Jupiter, chablis; From Saturn, bitter brew or sour wine. He spent six months in Stuttgart Attempting to convince the court This monument was worth a ruler's time and coin. A blind hand gropes for the handle of truth's door. Empty chatter echoes down unlit halls. There is a pleasure in retracing the detours Of Kepler's journey, a certain calmness In the counting of each mad step. The round world had no edge. America was China to him. Ariadne's thread led him back through light's labyrinth. His perfect crystal heart beat out a perfect chord For all his imaginary shapes to dance to. A restless sleeper awake inside a dream Where nature, man and God were one, He was a priest in the Pythagorean brotherhood, An acolyte of the sun who knew the game of signatures. He could decipher names in nature's script None had read for twice a thousand years. He sought out Tycho's eyes to verify The words his own voice spoke. Did the planets dance to the sounds he dreamed? He boasted he could puzzle out Mar's orbit in eight days. Eight years later, everything he'd seen gave way To an answer he had not wanted to believe. God, cutting obliquely through a cone, Spun every perfect circle into a warped ellipse, The sun, one focus; the center, empty space. Mars and all the planets stuttered round Now fast, now slow sweeping out From their unkiltered center equal areas in equal times.
Kepler came to this with his naked eye, An armillary sphere, Brahe's purloined notes And a wild surmise purified in the crucible of sense, Made magical by nine hundred pages of equations. Intransigent, back-pedaling Mars no longer defied Man's sight. The Earth as seen from space, In Kepler's imagination yielded up its answers: There is a force inside the sun that moves the planets. Disguised truth, so often rejected, returned stealthily By the back door to banish Ptolemy and Copernicus From the new-framed world. Their equants, Excentrics, deferents and all their interlocking spheres Disappeared from the Eden of the sky. With his pen's sharp edge, Kepler calculated Curves in space that were themselves their only cause. He synchronized his myth to what he saw. Listening hard, he turned his head to hear A winged messenger trouble calm, Italian air. When word came of one Paduan's discoveries, Star-struck Kepler's heart beat faster. He knew Galileo's magic scepter was a ladder To scale the walls of heaven, A woven net to haul the secrets of the sky Down to our lonely planet's shores. The visible stars of the Milky Way Made room for myriad unseen suns. Jupiter had companions. When sighted Through this optical reed the solar surface Was blemished by black spots, Mountains cast their shadows on the moon. Aristotle's satellite, haloed within by a blue As blue as lapis, had been a luminous, ethereal star. The moon's disk gleamed now With a different fire to shape her cheek and brow Into a distinct visage for earth-bound eyes. Galileo, wand in hand, became a kind of Mercury Delineating precipice from crater, crevasse From cliff, lunar sea from enclosed plateau. He led men's souls across a Lethe made navigable
By lenses no one else could grind. Quick to seek the Imperial Mathematician's Imprimatur for his books, Galileo Refused to send him a telescope. He would not give a colleague a competitive edge, Though to curry favor across Europe He had gifted scores of noblemen With crafted glass. He had to hedge. Galileo held the cosmic mystery in his fist And failed to understand. There is no record He read a word of Kepler's works; no evidence He recognized the verity of his laws. In Prague, one raucous Sunday, Kepler borrowed A glimpse of heaven through an eyepiece Galileo had given the Elector of Cologne. Though he was the star messenger's first champion Kepler received no answers to his letters Except encoded messages describing new discoveries. Puzzled, he informed Galileo an honest German Deserved prompter solutions to vain conundrums. In 1610, all contact between them abruptly ends. The north wind blew our magus a more constant music. The Hermes of contests translates into the lady of arrows. Her neighbors claimed Kepler's bearded mother Summoned nameless ghosts, rode calves to death, Passed through locked rooms to bring houses Down on helpless heads. They said she fashioned From her father's skull a drinking goblet for her son And brewed in her charmed pot the dragon's tea That caused the pain that killed their daughters. Was it surprising his nurse and guardian should be An artificer of day and night, a close contriver, A Circe to Selena, a Medea to Hecate? She brought laurel, bay leaves and a fine, red wool To wreathe her cauldron and cast her spell. She scattered burnt barley like the dust of bones And melted wax as her dog howled its greetings To a goddess at the spot where three roads met. A bronze bell sounded; the winds were tied;
The waves, confounded; the sea, silent. She spilled red wine three times, Unleashed bound horses once more over still waters. As the attendant stars road night's slow spiral, She bid the bright-throned moon farewell And climbed past hell's abyss straight to heaven's gate. Unshelled chestnuts fell from her aproned lap The day the provost rustled her from her house In an oaken chest to keep the locals from immolating A reputed witch. Kepler came home to defend her. After years of charge and counter-charge When confronted by the instruments of torture She did not cry out, having wept so many tears Her whole life long she had none left to shed. She told them though they pluck each artery From every limb, she'd not confess to false accusers. Acquitted before the court's, if not her neighbors' eyes She journeyed back with her vagabond son to Austria Where she died, unburnt, six months thereafter. Her child's mind smoldered in different fire. Cicero went to Africa to dream. Plato conjured All Atlantis from an ocean. Plutarch strung Phantom Greenlands and changeling Labradors Into an unreal island chain. Is it surprising Descartes Mapped the kingdoms inside each snowflake's shape Or that Kepler imagined a spirit-journey to the moon? As if on a ladder to a hive of souls, he opened His heart to the dark so he and all his demons Could climb the cone of shade an eclipse casts. As a cork at net's edge rides the surge undrenched By brine so Kepler in his sleep was kept afloat. He pulled his fisherman's haul past breakers To a beach where at last he glimpsed Through empty waves the rushlight of his final law. The sun, declining from zenith to nadir, Spread its arms in sweeping arcs To usher the dependent planets on their way. Through a surfeit of starshine Kepler clocked Each ancient nomad across an ageless sky. He found The square of the duration of each rock's journey
Was equal to the cube of its distance from our central star. He answered a question only he could ask. On the road to Frankfurt to sell his newly printed book, The fever he fled his whole life long caught up with him. The sun died in its heaven. The moon waned Into its gloom. His eyes rose skyward once, Whose bones sleep beneath restless earth. Who measured the circuit of the stars Paces the darkness. A perfect symmetry of dreams Was inscribed within the nautilus of his skull. Untethered from the shores of light he casts His sky-forged anchor, for the last time, Into orchestrated nature's black, eternal depths.
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